We interview Amy Ashenden, producer of both The Gay Word and new podcast documentary Queer Muslim Sex Worker.
“I’m from an immigrant, Pakistani, Muslim family. I am a queer, gender fluid sex worker who’s currently in a relationship with a woman and I am very involved with my mosque life…I will think sometimes, this is f***ing insane – half an hour ago I was scissoring my girlfriend, and the next minute I’m at the mosque translating a religious sermon against gay marriage,” says Maryam, the pseudonymous subject of Queer Muslim Sex Worker.
The trailer has been released for a groundbreaking podcast documentary telling the true story of a woman who identifies as queer, is Muslim and does sex work. Through a series of interviews across a year of Maryam’s life, the podcast tells her personal story as she speaks candidly about her gender, sexuality, Muslim identity and demonstrates on-air how she interacts with clients via online messaging for sex work.
Maryam (not her real name) is from London, of Pakistani heritage and is highly involved in her local mosque.
We interviewed Amy Ashenden, Producer and Presenter of Queer Muslim Sex Worker:
1. What prompted the decision to tell this personal story? And why did you choose to do it as a podcast?
I am fascinated by how different identities – ones that many people claim are incompatible – intersect, and Maryam is really an inspiration. I felt compelled to tell her story, particularly as there’s so little representation of people like Maryam anyway, let alone done in a way that is respectful, understanding and actually gets to grips with the intersectionality required to understand her story.
2. This is a groundbreaking piece of work, what reaction have you had to it so far? What reactions are you anticipating upon its release on May 3rd?
Thank you very much! I hope it is heard widely – by bigots who claim people like Maryam can’t or shouldn’t be who they are, but also really by queer people, people of colour, people of faith, sex workers; anyone who does and doesn’t get what intersectionality is and why we need it! Reaction has been great so far – lots of people are excited by the trailer. Lots of people are shocked and I regularly get angry tweets claiming Maryam is a hypocrite just for being who she is. I really hope those people take the time to listen to the podcast and just learn from it.
3. Sex work is still a taboo subject, even in 2017 – what part did this play in the creation of this piece?
Although the sex work aspect of Maryam’s life often provokes a lot of shock and intrigue, I was keen not to make that a central part of Maryam’s life, simply because it is not to her. For me, what was really interesting was getting to grips with how her Muslim and queer identities intersect, and how she navigates this white, heteronormative world as a gender fluid woman of colour and of faith.
The title of the podcast – Queer Muslim Sex Worker – is almost ironic in the way that it draws attention, but actually the podcast is about going beyond those labels and getting to grips with what those identities mean to Maryam and how they shape her experiences of the world.
4. How does this piece pose challenge to negative reactions to queer muslims?
The podcast doesn’t set out to challenge homophobia, instead it is about telling Maryam’s story, mostly in her own words, because it’s a story that needs to be heard. But as ever, by simply telling the story, the homophobes are obviously making themselves known. It challenges homophobia by demonstrating that queer Muslims exist!
5. How has the process of creating the work been?
The process has been quite a long one! I recorded the interviews with Maryam across a year of her life, and it’s taken a while to edit as a self-funded project between working, so I’m so happy it’s finally getting out there and people will be able to listen to her incredible story. One of the most fascinating things about the podcast is that you get to see Maryam’s life change and develop through the different interviews – I won’t spoil anything but it’s definitely worth listening start to finish.
Something I gave a lot of careful consideration was how I, as a white queer woman, could best tell Maryam’s story without simplifying it or altering to fit moulds or others’ perspectives – i.e. sadly what we often come across in the media. It was hugely important to me to get this right, and is why most of the podcast is Maryam telling her story in her own words. I didn’t want to impose myself on her narrative, that was really important.
6. What do you want audiences to take away from this story?
Intersectionality, intersectionality, intersectionality! The world needs to start listening to people like Maryam – we could all learn a lot, the queer community included.
7. Are there any further developments of this project in the pipeline?
I’m considering turning ‘Queer Podcasts’ into a series, but we shall see yet! Watch this space!
An independently-funded project, the podcast is produced and presented by journalist, Amy Ashenden (formerly LGBTQ Correspondent at the Evening Standard, now Senior Video Reporter at the Mirror Online), who produced the viral documentary The Gay Word in 2015.
Supported by audioBoom, the podcast will be released on 3 May 2017.